The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
My freshman year I learned how bad I was at time management. A few times my neighbor in the dormitory would pop in as I was starting to study, “hey want to watch a movie?” I thought sure and I will study in the morning. That morning study time never materialized and my grades suffered.
The second semester I got an organizer at the bookstore and tried to write down all upcoming tests and work. A few weeks in I began to neglect my organizer and did not study too much. I needed some major help here to get back on track.
I was in college in the mid-90s and Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective people had been out for a few years. Many of the business classes I had referenced it multiple times. One of the major topics I noticed was his four quadrants of activities.
He spoke about how many of our tasks are urgent but, not important. So when your co-worker interrupts you to talk about the big game from last night and you have some work that is needed for a 5 pm Deadline. This diagram helped me see many tasks better.
Using this diagram helped me filter a lot of the distractions I had in college. I started spending more time in the library on Quadrant 2 activities. For me, I had to keep up with the reading and notes. I was not a “pull an all-nighter” type of person. Slow and steady helped me complete my work and get through school.
The overriding goal of Covey’s work in 7 Habits and his book First Things First is striving for some balance. This doesn’t mean every day is balanced but over the course of the week, months, and the year you work toward it. Setting goals and reviewing how you spend your time can help you see if you are off balance and need to change.
Getting Things Done
A few years after I was in the working world I heard people talking about David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. His approach was slightly different and geared toward the era of email. He spoke about finishing small tasks quickly and creating a workflow to support your work.
In the system
Allen also states how we need to create the system of touching things once. We should not have multiple places we store things just once. Get things in the system right away and ride yourself of the paper.
If we want to accomplish anything large we need to take it into small chunks that we can easily execute. We need to not focus too much on each successive step but just the next steps. Don’t get overloaded planning the whole journey.
Horizon of Focus
The Getting Things Done system breaks down what you should focus on. We have current actions and current projects that we should focus on now. Keep our focus on our area of responsibility. Don’t worry about the other things.
The goals that we set are in three sections. The first section we look at are the 1-2 year goals. Then we have our 3-5 year goals and the last section is the lifetime goals we set. I like how we can slice our accomplishments that we want into these three timeframes.
Overall the system Covey has is more of focused on values. David Allen’s Getting Things Done is much finer grained. He spells out all the steps you need to use his system. This can make it harder to implement as well.